CJ Perez shines for Pi­rates

Tempo - - Sports - By JEROME LAGUNZAD

Ev­ery­thing is go­ing right for re­turn­ing NCAA star CJ Perez so far.

Out of the col­le­giate lime­light for two years, the 6-foot-1 Perez is prov­ing he’s truly worth the wait, es­pe­cially to Lyceum coach Topex Robin­son and his fel­low Pi­rates who have been mak­ing early noise in the 93rd NCAA se­niors bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment.

Af­ter an event­ful open­ing week filled with in­tense and drama – on and off the court, the Pi­rates have put them­selves on top of the leader­board with a 2-0 record and un­der­scored their readi­ness to con­tend – the mod­est be­ing a Fi­nal 4 berth that the school has yet to se­cure since it joined the league in 2011.

Lyceum opened its ti­tle cam­paign with a bang by over­whelm­ing peren­nial Fi­nal 4 con­tender Jose Rizal U 96-75 last Tues­day then fol­lowed it up with a stun­ning five-point vic­tory over de­fend­ing cham­pion San Beda three days af­ter.

And there’s lit­tle doubt that Perez, who failed to see ac­tion for UAAP pow­er­house Ate­neo af­ter trans­fer­ring from San Se­bas­tian in 2014, has been the driv­ing force be­hind the Pi­rates’ early as­sault.

The Bautista, Pan­gasi­nan na­tive is av­er­ag­ing 23.0 points, 7.0 re­bounds, 2.5 as­sists and 1.5 steals per game, prac­ti­cally do­ing a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing for the Pi­rates who have been billed as the prime threat to the Red Lions’ reign.

But Robin­son, 42, is as quick as he once was dur­ing his hey­day in the pro ranks in terms of keep­ing his prized guard’s feet on the ground.

“He’s gonna make mis­takes pa rin. That’s what I al­ways tell him – he’s gonna win games for us, he’s gonna lose games for us. That’s the way of the world for us,” he stressed, with Perez sit­ting be­side him dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view.

“CJ knows that he will never be bet­ter than his team­mates. He can never win it by him­self. Suc­cess is a team sport. And it’s re­ally about us. It’s re­ally about a good group of coaches. It’s not even about me. It’s all about us, the en­tirety of the team.”

And Perez, who pow­ered the Golden Stags to their last semi­fi­nals trip in 2013 dur­ing his rookie year, knows he could not do it all by his lone­some.

“‘Yung team ta­laga ang se­cret dun. Kaya nananalo kami, de­pensa rin ta­laga. Nakakat­u­long rin ta­laga sila sa akin,” he beamed, re­fer­ring to the likes of Cameroon im­port Mike Nzeusseu, vet­er­ans Rey­mar Caduyac, Mer Ayaay and the Marcelino twins – JV and JC.

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